Associate Prof. Dr. Le Mau Han
On September 2, 1945, President Ho Chi Minh, on behalf of the Provisional Government, solemnly read the Declaration of Independence, stating before our people and the world peoples the inviolable national rights of nations, that are “All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth; all the peoples have the right to live and to enjoy happiness and freedom.”
The Declaration of Independence is an important legal document, which affirms that the Vietnamese nation’s independence and freedom is the sacred right, which cannot be violated by anyone. A new era - the era of independence and freedom - was ushered in the history of the Vietnamese people.
General election with universal suffrage
By then, the Provisional Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was the highest administrative body, holding the historic responsibility to direct the performance of urgent tasks on domestic and foreign affairs, defense, economy, culture and social matters. The National Assembly election aimed to set up a lawful and constitutional government. Therefore, the formulation of a constitution for the young republic and the establishment of an official government became the primary tasks as the affirmation of a political institution, namely a law-governed national and democratic state of the entire nation.
At the first cabinet meeting on September 3, 1945, President Ho Chi Minh clearly pointed out: “under the feudal and colonial regimes, Vietnam did not have a constitution; the people could not enjoy democratic freedoms. We need a democratic constitution.” Therefore, he proposed the Government to early hold a general suffrage election. His proposal was of a historic value as a constitutional declaration.
On September 8, 1945, the Government promulgated Decree No. 14/SL, providing for the holding of a general election to elect deputies to the National Assembly, the highest state power body having full power to decide on a constitution for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Hence, a drafting committee composed of seven members was set up under Decree No. 34/SL of September 20, 1945. Then Decree No. 51/SL was enacted on October 17, 1945, providing for a general suffrage election. These were the first decrees on the establishment of Vietnamese citizens’ mastery over the nation’s destiny through the National Assembly election.
President Ho Chi Minh clearly stated: “General elections constitute an opportunity for the entire population to freely elect people with talents and good virtues to shoulder the national affairs. In the elections, anyone who cares for national affairs can stand for the elections and every citizen is entitled to go to the polls. All citizens, regardless of their sexes, economic situation, religions, races, social classes, political parties, have these two rights. For such reasons, general election means freedom, equality, democracy and unity.”
On January 6, 1946, the first election to the National Assembly, a constitutional National Assembly of Vietnam, was held nationwide. In combat zones in South Vietnam, southern Central Vietnam and the Central Highlands, elections took place in a fierce circumstance even with bloodshed for the exercise of democratic rights of every Vietnamese citizen. The election turnouts were great with 89% of voters in 71 provinces and cities went to the polls; 333 deputies were elected, of whom 57% belonged to different political parties, 10 were female and 34 were ethnic minority people. A large number of people stood for the elections. In Hanoi alone, 6 deputies were elected among 74 candidates.
A constituent assembly
Following the success of the general election, the National Assembly, at its first session on March 2, 1946, elected a National Assembly Standing Committee headed by scholar Nguyen Van To and set up a coalition resistance government headed by Ho Chi Minh as President. So, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam state was officially organized with the National Assembly as the highest state power agency and the Government as the highest administrative body elected by the National Assembly. That was the state of the nation, by the nation and for the nation, which had full legal capacity and prestige to carry out important national tasks, namely the resistance war and national construction and defense of the national independence and freedom.
A draft constitution was prepared by the constitution-drafting committee. Though brief and concise, it spelt out the national and democratic nature of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, a state of the entire nation, a unified state with the highest state power body being the Parliament and the Government being the highest administrative agency with power concentrated to the utmost into the President in the administration and management of the country and civic interests and rights.
On November 10, 1946, the draft constitution was publicized on Cuu Quoc (National Salvation) paper for public opinion. The drafting committee was responsible for gathering and summarizing proposals for submission to the National Assembly. Meanwhile, the National Construction Plan Study Committee, which was attached to the Government and composed of 50 members who were intellectuals, patriotic personalities, ministers and deputy-ministers, also studied and put forth another draft constitution submitted to the Government.
Based mainly on the Government’s draft constitution, which was compared with the draft constitution of the National Construction Plan Study Committee, and consulting constitutions of a number of European countries, the National Assembly’s Constitution Sub-Committee made a new draft constitution and presented it to the National Assembly at its second session lasting from October 28 to November 9, 1946 in Hanoi. National Assembly deputies pointed to its pluses and added a number of specific points before it was unanimously approved. On November 9, 1946, the National Assembly voted to pass the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam with 240 votes for among 242 present deputies.
Vietnam’s first general election in 1946 elected the National Assembly - the highest state power body, which appointed an official government and passed a democratic and equal constitution. Such victory is a glorious landmark for a historic advance by leaps and bounds regarding the national institution of rule by law and democracy, as a testimony to the creativeness and practicality of Ho Chi Minh’s thought about a law-ruled state of the nation, by the nation and for the nation.-